SAN MARTIN, Calif. — Tiger Woods barely missed chipping in for birdie on the 14th hole, came within a hair of rolling in his long eagle putt on 15, lipped out his birdie chip on 16, and left his long birdie putt a half a rotation short on 17.
Woods was mostly dialed in for the third round of the Frys.com Open at CordeValle, but after his ball refused to drop on his front nine — the course's back nine on the scorecard — and he made a few glaring mistakes on his back nine, he signed for his second straight 68.
"The golf course could have been had today," Woods said.
Alas, he didn't do the having. At four under for the tournament, he'll almost certainly be too far back for a shot at the trophy Sunday. Because 53 players had to return to complete their second round at 7:30 Saturday morning, pushing back the start of the third round, officials sent players off both tees in threesomes.
Woods played with Louis Oosthuizen (71) for the third straight day, and they were joined by Matt Bettencourt (74). The three played behind the lead group of Paul Casey, Ernie Els and Bud Cauley once those three teed off at 3:25 p.m. Eastern.
With birdies on the first and second holes, his 10th and 11th of the day, Woods pulled to within three of the lead, but it wouldn't last. He made a mess of the two par-3s on the front nine, and when Els rolled in a four-foot, seven-inch eagle putt on the par-5 ninth — just ahead of the Woods threesome — Tiger was eight behind.
Woods birdied the hole, reaching the green in two shots and two-putting, and was six behind the leader Els after the big South African bogeyed the 10th. Woods was far from perfect in pursuit of his first PGA Tour title in more than two years, but he looked better Saturday than he did Friday, just as he'd looked better Friday than he'd looked Thursday.
"Absolutely it's gotten better," he said. "I felt so good over the ball today."
Woods had pulled his drive into a fairway bunker on the par-5 15th in the second round, but he blistered his drive 306 yards into the center of the fairway on that hole in the third round, setting up an easy birdie.
He tugged his tee shot on the par-3 16th before nearly chipping in for birdie.
"Keep up the good work, Tiger," an elderly woman leaning over the railing of the bleachers told Woods as he walked off the green. "You're doin' good."
"Thank you, ma'am," Woods replied.
Indeed, when Woods was off with his long game, his short game was sharp.
At the par-4 17th hole, where tournament officials had moved the tees up two boxes, making it play only 294 yards, Woods pulled his tee shot into a tough lie in the rough, but he hacked his ball out and nearly made his 34-foot birdie putt. At the 18th hole, where he'd hit a 3-wood into the creek and made bogey Friday, he found the fairway and made par Saturday.
A large crowd followed Woods around the course, exhorting him to play well, and he delivered about as well as could be expected, given his paucity of recent competitive action. As was the case at this year's Masters and last year's Chevron Challenge, he's trending in the right direction; he still has a ways to go.
"I would like to just keep building on it," he said, before tidying up in the lockerroom and ducking into an Audi SUV to drive up to the Stanford-Colorado football game with pal Arjun Atwal. "I'm definitely doing that."